By Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
Two friends started bickering last night and I realised it was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
It was an old and well-worn pattern of communication. That favourite track on a Vinyl LP worn deep in a groove. Their disagreement wasn’t about the topic at all, it was a deeper emotional wound.
It sparked my anxiety because there was alcohol involved and I felt it might end in violence. Ghosts of Christmas past. So it got me thinking about the social survival techniques I’ve used in sticky moments.
As family and friends come together after a two-year Covid-enforced absence this ‘festive’ season will be particularly fraught. A heady cocktail of old arguments, old pain and a world of frustration luring you to the rocks with an irresistible Siren song.
Usually I separate my communication analysis and control tools from regular conversation - because unless they’re paying for it no one really wants to hear the truth. And sometimes not even then.
But a strong communicator can step in and change a conversation if they need to. Remember that, like a media interview, a Christmas gathering has an aim: Usually to celebrate connection. While verbal sparring and even biffo are a dark form of connection, make a conscious choice about how you engage. You have three options, calm it down, walk away, or enjoy the fireworks.
If you do engage, here are three useful techniques to keep you, and your relationship, safe over Christmas.
Calm by validation
Most people just want to feel heard. When you’re being hammered by a challenging journalist you know to acknowledge their question and bridge to a key message. The same rules apply with your homophobic uncle or racist granny. You don’t have to agree with the premise, just show you hear them.
Bridge from a universal truth
The universal truth is an elegant defence in a tough interview, particularly in live TV, but it does take practice. If the rant is political, e.g., how useless the Government or Opposition is, try something like “I guess we all want social justice and a strong sustainable economy, and that's worth fighting for, but I would say …”.
Use the dead cat strategy
I love this one and used it regularly with my shrink because it always draws attention and redirects the conversation. The dead cat is a political strategy - picture a heated dinner party conversation and suddenly a dead cat appears on the table. Everyone’s attention is on the cat - where did it come from, how did it die, who’s going to clean it up? Useful dead cats include house prices, high profile affairs and leaked nude photos. Keep, two or more dead cats up your sleeve for when ever you need a distraction.
And when the hard work of Christmas is done you’ll be free to wallow in those blissful tension free days between Boxing Day and New Year.
See you on the other side.
Still hunting for survival tools? Try these
A feel-good short vid on the power of postive words
Want to make the pot boil over? Take a leaf from Trump’s playbook
Need to apologise? Land it with this technique
From all the Clarity team, thank you for your company this year. We're always on call if you need us, and we look forward to working with you again soon.